New Delhi: Can street lamps or billboards be used to lay down a grid to ensure seamless internet connectivity? This is the question the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) set out to answer with a pilot study launched last week.
This pilot study by TRAI comes in the backdrop of Union Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw’s statement last month that 5G spectrum auctions are likely by June this year. By all estimates, industries will rely on 5G connectivity in the future to manufacture using Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR).
As part of the TRAI study, 5G small cells — wireless network base stations used to enhance cellular network coverage in areas — will be mounted on street lamps, traffic lights, bus stops, electricity poles, billboards and smart poles, to analyse whether they can ensure fast and steady internet connectivity in the future.
Smart poles will offer services such as Wi-Fi hotspots, digital billboards, and CCTV coverage.
In a statement about the study, launched at Deendayal port in Gujarat’s Kachchh district, TRAI said optimal utilisation of public infrastructure already available at ports can dismiss the need to erect thousands of new towers to attain faster connectivity.
“The pilot will help in understanding challenges in 5G small cell deployment in Indian ports. Hundreds of 5G small cells are needed to be installed in a square kilometre of the area to provide good coverage,” TRAI said in the statement.
“Vodafone Idea, Airtel, BSNL, along with Indus Towers, will be jointly working on this pilot with Deendayal Port Authority,” TRAI said, referring to companies whose representatives were present during all meetings pertaining to the 5G rollout conducted by TRAI and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
Small cells and 5G
In March this year, TRAI released a consultation paper listing measures the government could take to deploy 5G services across the country, including the installation of small cells.
“Small cells intend to provide localised coverage in households and hotspot services, especially in areas like city centres and transport hubs,” the TRAI paper said, adding, “5G networks and services will support ultra-reliability, low latency, ultra-high speeds, and massive connection densities. Small cells enable these features of 5G to be exploited.”
These small cells can prove to be a gamechanger in rural areas, where they can be deployed, configured and maintained without much effort. In urban areas, these small cells can be used to manage traffic, as well as for automated street lighting, smart parking, emergency response, public safety, and security.
One example cited by TRAI was the use of sensors in roads and pavements to determine car speed, track traffic details, and understand road conditions, among other functions.
The objective is to install as many small cells as required to make sure there is enough coverage, what the TRAI termed “densification process”.
5G networks involving antennae and “base stations” will require less power compared to 4G. In addition, 5G will also reduce the dependence on fibre cables while offering better latency — transmitting information between two points faster. This will further enable devices to remain connected to the cloud where data processing can take place accurately.
Internet of Things
In its paper, TRAI highlighted the potential transformation of “Internet of Things” and how the government is banking on it to deploy 5G networks to improve smart cities.
“5G networks in general and small cells, in particular, will play a pivotal role in smart cities development, due to its capacity to offer next-generation solutions,” the paper said.
It went on to cite intelligent transport management systems, and smart networks for water and waste management as next-generation solutions for smart cities.
“The need for high bandwidth and a secure & dependable data flow for the massive IoT and provision of smart services like public safety even in hard-to-reach locations such as underground car parks or pavements stress the need for 5G connectivity,” the paper explained.
In its paper, TRAI identified some important obstacles to the “densification process” such as the availability of structures resistant to extreme weather conditions like rain, heat and severe wind.
Mounting these small cells in large numbers is capital-intensive and time-consuming, and will require skilled workers, the TRAI said, adding that deploying these cells in places like the underground metro could lead to regular travel disruptions that will not be economically feasible in the long run.
Several countries like Japan and South Korea have used aerial fibres to deploy 5G networks but India is yet to use this technology in its telecommunication lines. The challenge, according to TRAI, will be to completely transform the present system.
Concerns have also been raised over the pricing of the 5G spectrum.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) had in a statement on 12 April expressed its “disappointment” with the same.
“The spectrum pricing recommended by TRAI is too high. Throughout the consultation process, the industry had presented extensive arguments based on global research and benchmarks, for a significant reduction in spectrum prices,” the statement read. “Industry recommended 90 per cent lower price, and to see only about 35-40 per cent reduction recommended at prices, therefore is deeply disappointing.”
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)